Thursday, October 30, 2008

Still in Tonga due to weather

Weather has changed yet again and our departure from Tonga is delayed.  Now looks like we will be departing Tuesday, November 4, for the passage south to New Zealand.  Don't know how that affects our onboard food supply and don't really care.  It is what it is and we can always find something to eat on this boat.  Maybe not what we would like, but definitely something edible.

Weather here in Nuku'Alofa was beautiful and hot and sunny all day Wednesday with slight wind from the north.  Then about 3 p.m. the wind shifted to come from the south and noticeably increased, clouds moved in, started raining, and it is dreary and depressing.  Guess this is finally the LOW that we have been waiting for all week.

Our friends who left here late last week are now 400 miles from NZ.  They are trying to beat another LOW that will move into that area in 2 days with westerly winds of 40 knots.  They are motoring at 9 knots and will probably make it to their destination before the bad weather reaches that area.  That LOW is not predicted to move northward and will be long gone before we get anywhere near that area, so we should not encounter it if we do leave Tonga early next week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Lapita People

What wind there has been since we returned to Tonga from our first aborted attempt to sail south to New Zealand has come from the north.  Almost no breeze at all, but what there is comes from the north.  And what a change of temperature!!!  With southerly winds or southeast winds the temperature is nice and cool, sometimes too cool.  As soon as the wind switches to the north the temperature becomes noticeably hotter.  Daytime interior temperature of our boat has risen from 76F to 86F.  With no breeze it is not comfortable to sit in the cockpit and read, so I decided to sit at the computer under a fan to cool off. 

On Friday there was a gathering at Big Mama’s Yacht Club – volleyball, coconut throwing competition and water balloon fights, followed by a delicious buffet dinner.  Our only participation in the volleyball games was as observers, but Bill did participate in the coconut throwing competition.  I gave his team the name “Who Flung Poo” – the same name we used in the trivia contest at the bar in Vava’U last month.  And Who Flung Poo won hands down.  The game consisted of first throwing out a hard piece of some kind of light colored fruit about the size of your fist.  Wherever it landed was the goal for throwing the coconut.  The team whose coconuts came to rest closest to the fruit were the winners.  This is not as easy as it sounds because a coconut is not round.  When it lands on the ground it rolls in crazy unpredictable directions.  This is our kind of game because it requires no physical skill or exertion in any manner.  Just toss the coconut up in the air with both hands (they were in full husk and heavy), then stand back in the shade of a palm tree and sip beer or wine or Diet Coke and wait for your next turn to throw.   Let those who are in better physical condition (and younger) hop around in the sun and wham on volleyballs.  The slow “sport” of tossing coconuts is more to our liking.

Each member of each winning team for each of the competitions was awarded a prize.  The prizes were freshly woven day baskets, each containing freshly picked local fruit.  These prizes cost Big Mama nothing and were a big hit with the cruisers.  Bill’s prize basket contained 2 husked coconuts and a small watermelon.  Others received mangos or papayas along with husked coconuts.  The Dept of Tourism also handed out gifts to the cruisers.   Each boat received 4 small bottles of drinking water and 2 bags of locally produced taro chips.  These are like potato chips and have no taste whatsoever.  Hey, make do with what you have available.  Really do not know how all the islanders throughout the Pacific ever developed a taste for taro since it has no discernable flavor to our western palettes.   BTW, I just learned last week during our island tour that those elephant ear plants that grew outside my mother’s kitchen door in Beaumont, Texas, when I was a little kid were really taro plants.  Yep, they eat elephant ears throughout the South Pacific and Hawaii.  And they eat every part of that plant – leaves, stalks and corm.  The purplish stalks are used in Hawaii to make poi which is a truly detestable gelatinous sweet substance.  Anyway, Bill and I will not be eating any more elephant ears in the foreseeable future.

Saturday night was the weekly get-together at Big Mama’s.  She does it right.  Each party brings their own meat or fish and she provides either 3 salads or 2 salads and a baked potato, garlic bread, plates and cutlery for 10 pa’anga.  You stand by the person manning the grill and tell him when to turn your steak or fish or whatever, so the quality of cooking is your responsibility.  You can either buy drinks from Big Mama’s or bring your own wine and pay 7 pa’anga corkage fee.  This is so reasonably priced and the salads are great.  Good company and good food in a great atmosphere at a good price.  Wish more places that cater to cruisers would operate in this manner.  Each Saturday there is a theme for these “pot luck” dinners.  This week the theme was Pirate Night and Big Mama requested that we all dress up like pirates.   About a dozen of us made an attempt to put together a costume for the evening.  One couple had elaborate pirate costumes; don’t want to know why they carry such clothes onboard.  Last week the theme was Funniest Story.  Bill told the story about the sea lion trying to climb into our bedroom hatch in the Galapagos Islands.   The funniest story was about a goat attacking a couple on an island in Vava’U last month.

The weather guru Bob McDavitt now predicts that tomorrow Thursday, October 30, should be our departure date for the passage to New Zealand.   He should email us the waypoints and time schedule for our passage sometime today and we should weigh anchor mid-morning tomorrow.  When we first arrived in Nuku’Alofa there were only 6 boats in the anchorage.  Today there are 29 boats anchored here – all preparing for the dreaded passage south to New Zealand.  Don’t know which, if any, of the boats will be leaving when we leave tomorrow morning, but hope to establish an SSB net with other boats underway.  It is nice to check-in twice daily with others and see how we are all progressing and what the weather is like in different spots.  

We have been waiting for the current LOW to move up through Tonga before leaving, and the LOW moved slower than was originally predicted.  Hope the 4 boats who left the day after we returned did not encounter severe weather while they are anchored in North Minerva Reef.  Still glad we did not get herd mentality and take off with them.  Best to wait for good weather forecast rather than knowingly sail off to a reef in the middle of the ocean to anchor and wait out a LOW front that you know is headed to exactly where you will be anchored.  After all, we don’t need to be in Auckland until first of December so we are not in a hurry at this point.  Weather is far more important than a calendar schedule.  By leaving Thursday we should also be able to avoid the next LOW that will be moving west to east across north of NZ on November 2-3-4.  That LOW is predicted to move easterly rather than northereasterly, so we should avoid it altogether.  We will arrive at Opua which is located on the northeast tip of the North Island of New Zealand.  BTW, had we continued the passage last week instead of returning to Tonga we would have experienced bad weather exactly where Bob McDavitt predicted.  Another boat did not turn around and they reported that they experienced 35 knot winds and 8 meter seas at latitude 30 south on Saturday.   If we had continued the passage then that is exactly where we would have been on Saturday.  Glad we turned around and waited for better weather.

Our food supplies from the major provisioning in Panama are dwindling right on schedule.  I have pre-cooked everything and have portions frozen so there will be no real cooking required underway, basically just heat things in the microwave.  I baked brownies to use up the last of the pecans, then discovered another small bag; so I roasted them and made spiced pecans to snack on underway.  NZ Quarantine does not allow raw nuts.  I also made burritos and froze them.  That sounds like such a simple thing but is more involved here because none of the ingredients are available.  First I had to cook the pinto beans (using the last onion and garlic and last chunks of salt pork and ham), then make frijoles.  Then make flour tortillas.  Used up the last of the boxed cheddar cheese in the burritos.  We have one small can of cheddar cheese for snacks or sandwiches during the passage.  Believe it or not, these cans of cheddar cheese are just like normal cheddar from the refrigerated section of the supermarkets back home.  We are down to our final 2 rolls of Bounty paper towels and have one 12-pack of Northern toilet tissue unopened.  You have no idea how prized American paper products are out here.  Other countries simply do not produce quality paper products.  The dishwashing liquid will probably be empty the day we arrive in Opua.  All frozen meats will be consumed, as well as the few canned meats in our pantry.  I’m sure that NZ Quarantine will remove some food items when we clear in but all-in-all I think we provisioned right on target.  Right now it appears that the only item that I overbought is deodorant, and that is not subject to quarantine restrictions and will definitely be used eventually.

Yesterday I dug out all the colder weather clothes on the boat; not many since we avoid cold places like the plague.  I’m sure we will be bundled up under blankets in the cockpit at night during this passage south.  We will go into Big Mama’s for lunch today and spend our final Tongan money.  We only have 24 pa’anga and that probably is not enough for 2 lunches but will be enough for us to split a lunch and each have a cold drink.  All that is left to do after lunch is bring the dinghy up on deck and we will be ready to depart. 

Now for a few words about the Lapita People.

It was about 50,000 years ago that people first reached the Pacific islands, arriving in New Guinea from Southeast Asia via Indonesia.  (Look at a globe if you aren’t up to snuff on geography.)  These people were known as Papuans and share ancestry with Australia’s first Aboriginals.  The Papuans moved slowly east and halted in the northern Solomon Islands about 25,000 years ago.  It is assumed that the Papuans lacked the skills and technology required to cross the increasingly wide stretches of open ocean from the Solomon Islands.  Subsequent peoples, collectively known as Austronesians, moved into the area from the west and mingled with the Papuans, eventually becoming the highly diverse group of people we conveniently group together as Melanesians.  All of these people – Papuans, Austronesians and Melanesians – had very dark or black skin.  All relating back to their original homeland of Africa (hey, we are all Africans I do hope everyone realizes by now).  The wider seas from the Solomons to Vanuatu were finally crossed in about 1500 B.C.  These people were known as the Lapita and can be traced to the Bismark Archipelago in far-north Papua New Guinea.  (BTW, Papua New Guinea was also known as New Britain and old charts reflect this name.  The large island is now known as Papua New Guinea on the eastern side and Irian Java on the western side.  Against local wishes Indonesia is relocating huge numbers of its population to Irian Java.  Stay tuned for future fighting, I’m sure.)

The Lapita developed the technology and skills required to cross open seas and quickly expanded through New Caledonia (Kanak), Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.  The culture now known as Polynesian was developed by the Lapita in Tonga and Samoa.  The Lapita are also called the Pin-hole Pottery People.  The Lapitas’ descendants (the Polynesians) paused in Samoa and Tonga for about a thousand years and then crossed the longer ocean stretches to the east all the way to the Marquesas around 200 B.C.  Remember, they were going against the prevailing trade winds the entire time as they migrated from west to east across the vast Pacific Ocean.

The first Lapita ceramic fragments were discovered on Watom Island in Papua New Guinea by a missionary in 1909.  The name Lapita comes from an archaeological dig at Lapita in New Caledonia in 1952.  Shards of Lapita pottery have been found throughout Melanesia, in parts of Micronesia and in western Polynesia (Tonga, Samoa and Wallis and Fortuna).  Lapita pottery was tempered with sand and fired in open fires, and decorated with rows of curvilinear patterns stamped into the unfired clay.  Polynesian tattoo-ists took up these distinctive motifs, using chisels to scrape or puncture the skin.  Tapa (bark cloth) decoration followed in the same decorative manner.  The Lapita-like patterns are found throughout the Pacific.  In some areas the Lapita-style pottery is still produced; but we have not seen any because we aren’t shoppers.

The Lapita were highly skilled sailors and navigators and were able to cross hundreds of miles of open sea.  Trade and settlement were important to their culture.  They traded obsidian (volcanic glass used in tool production) from Papua New Guinea all the way to Tonga and Samoa.  The Lapita were also agriculturists and practiced husbandry of dogs, pigs and poultry.  The Lapita are regarded as the first cultural complex in the Pacific.   The settlement of the Pacific Ocean was a remarkable feat of ocean sailing.  All but the furthest-flung islands of the Pacific were colonized by 200 B.C., or 1200 years before the Vikings crossed the Atlantic.  The presence of kumara (sweet potato) in the Pacific Islands confirms that journeys were made as far east as South America, probably from the Marquesas.  Traditional stories also indicate exploratory journeys into Antarctic waters but there is nothing to confirm these stories.

To sum up the migration of human settlement in the Pacific:
50,000 BC       Papua New Guinea from SE Asia  (approx 2000 NM island hopping)
25,000 BC       PNG to Solomon Islands (approx 650 NM island hopping)
1500 BC          Solomon Islands to Vanuatu (approx 650 NM)
and soon thereafter to New Caledonia (approx 750 NM)     
1500 BC          Vanuatu to Fiji  (approx 650 NM)
1500 BC          Vanuatu to Tonga (approx 1050 NM)
1500 BC          Vanuatu to Samoa (approx 1160 NM)
200 BC            Tonga to Marquesas (approx 2200 miles) and Tuamotu Archipelago (approx 1800 NM)
200 BC            Tonga to Society Islands (approx 1400 miles) and Cook Islands (approx 1200 NM)
1 AD                Fiji to Tuvalu (600 NM), Gilbert Islands (900 NM) and Marshall Islands (approx 1700 NM)
300 AD            Marquesas to Easter Island (Rapa Nui) (approx 2100 NM)
400 AD            Marquesas to Line Islands (approx 1200 NM)
400 AD            Society Islands (Bora Bora via Marquesas) to Hawai’ian Islands (approx 2800 NM)
900 AD            Society Islands (Bora Bora and/or Haiviki) to New Zealand (Aoetearoa) (approx 2300 NM)

Quite a feat for a culture who did not even have a written language.  Imagine sailing those distances in outrigger canoes using celestial navigation. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Turned around by Tropical Low in our path

We're baaack.

We left Tonga around 8 a.m. and had sailed 71 miles when we received an email from our weather router advising us to ABORT this passage, so we immediately turned around and returned to Tonga.  Bob McDavitt is our weather router for this part of the world.  He lives in New Zealand and knows the weather patterns here really well.  For a reasonable fee, McDavitt provided us with a route to NZ which would have taken us 9 days.  McDavitt's route took advantage of winds at certain positions and gave us a total passage of about 1140 miles...the straight line is about 1000 miles so this is fairly efficient routing.  A problem occurred when one of the Low Pressure areas we planned to pass through about mid-way to NZ intensified on the weather modeling computers.  These modeling computers now expect this Low Pressure to become a Tropical Low with Gales.  McDavitt sent us an email which we luckily received with only 10 hours into our passage.  We really do not want to spend 24 - 36 hours at sea in a Gale with 50kt winds so we took his advice to ABORT and turned around. 

We arrived back in Nuku'alofa around 5:00 this morning.  Just a 21 hour day sail in not too pleasant conditions because of the SPCZ activity.  We are back in Tongatapu and expect to try again Tuesday 28 October, weather permitting.

Re:  the earthquake last weekend
Received an email from a friend in the States and learned that the earthquake we experienced last weekend was a 7.1 and the epicenter was 94 miles from where we were anchored.  We felt 2 aftershocks on Wednesday afternoon.  Still have heard no local comments about this earthquake.  The local inhabitants seem to think nothing of it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Earthquake in Tonga very close to us

Date Range:  10/13/2008 to 10/20/2008

Title:  Earthquake in Tonga

Sunday night at anchor off Pangaimotu was restful and we decided not to rush over to the main harbor to officially clear into the Tongatapu Group.  It isn’t like Tonga has a Coast Guard that comes out to check these anchorages.   We decided check-in could wait another day.  Instead we did laundry, tidied up the boat interior, ate a nice lunch ashore at Big Mama’s.  The afternoon was spent assembling the paperwork that will be required upon our arrival in New ZealandNew Zealand requires that we provide Customs with various bits of information at least 48 hours prior to our arrival.  Bill prepared the declaration form covering us and the boat and the electronics aboard, and I dug through all the food lockers and prepared a preliminary list of all foods that must be declared. 

Absolutely no fresh or frozen meats, cheese, eggs or milk (even canned) can be brought into New Zealand.  All canned meats must be declared and will probably be destroyed upon arrival, especially any meats canned anywhere in South America for some reason.  You must also declare anything that contains any meat or chicken, like pasta sauces or soups.  Popcorn is prohibited and dried beans and spices must be inspected by Quarantine officer upon arrival.   Each item must be listed as well as the country of origin, which is not necessarily the country of production.  For example, Star Kist tuna is produced in the USA but the product originates in Ecuador.  I have prepared a Word document listing all the items onboard that fall into the restricted catefories and will delete those items consumed during our passage.  I had provisioned to last through November 15 and still have “emergency” meals for another 2 weeks.  So there is still a lot of food on this boat that must be consumed or destroyed before arrival in New Zealand.

And, guess what, next year we will be visiting Australia and they are even stricter than New Zealand about this stuff.   Australia requires minimum 96 hour notice prior to arrival.  An American couple arrived in Australia and provided only 48 hours prior notice.  They had visited the Australian Consulate in New Caledonia and there received information that only 48 hours prior notice was required.  The Americans received this information in writing from the AU Consulate.  Turned out that the Australian Consulate in New Caledonia gave them incorrect information.  Their boat was impounded upon arrival in Australia.  They fought this through the Australian courts and lost.  They were fined $20,000 AUD but the fine was reduced to only $2,000 AUD.  Including attorney fees, court costs, impound fees, and fines the total cost to the American couple was in excess of $68,000 AUD.  The Australians are serious about enforcing this 96 hour prior arrival notification.  They are equally as serious about enforcing the Quarantine restrictions on foods.  We will definitely arrive in Australia with bare cupboards.

Tuesday we moved BeBe and anchored behind a reef outside the main harbor so we could take the dinghy in and do the official paperwork dance.  That part was simple.  Then we took a taxi to the New Zealand Immigration office where we were informed that we do not need a 6-month multi-entry visa after all.  Darn good thing because there isn’t time to get one now anyway.  The NZ sailing guidebook is incorrect.  US citizens are granted 90 days upon arrival in New Zealand and can extend for another 90 days in country.   That will cover the entire cyclone season.

We decided to inquire about duty-free fuel and that took hours.  Instead of having a nice lunch in town as we planned, we spent hours walking from one office to another to arrange duty-free fuel.  We visited the Harbor Authority 5 times, Customs 3 times, and the BP Terminal 3 times.  Something that should be so routine and simple took far more effort than it should have.  Any foreign yacht can purchase duty-free fuel in Nuku’alofa at any time.  You do not need to wait until you have cleared out of the country as is required in most countries (and is required in Vava’U).  But getting the right paperwork is like pulling teeth. 

Here is the simple way: 
1) Visit the Customs office on the ground floor in the corner building where Harbor Authority is located and obtain a stamped paper allowing you to purchase a specific quantity of duty-free fuel. 
2) Take this paper to the Harbor Authority upstairs – the very elderly Tongan man with the pure white wild hair will barely open his mouth to talk so this is a challenge.  Arrange with him to bring your boat to a space on the harbor dock.  Just accept whatever he says (it doesn’t mean that what he says is really going to happen).  He must give you a stamped paper authorizing you to dock your boat inside the harbor.
3) Walk across the road to the second building where you will find a WestPac ATM to obtain Tongan cash.  You are required to pay cash for the fuel.
4) Walk eastward on that main road for about half-mile until you find the BP Terminal sign; turn right and walk another quarter-mile to the office.  Show them the 2 papers you obtained earlier, pay for the diesel and arrange time for delivery to the harbor wall.

When it is time to get your fuel bring your boat into the harbor and find an empty spot along the harbor wall.  You are supposed to hail Harbor Authority on VHF channel 14 and they are supposed to tell you where to tie off.  But Harbor Authority never answers the radio.  We have not once heard Harbor Authority answer a hail on the radio.  So just find a spot and tie off. Find someone and borrow their cell phone to call BP Terminal and tell them where your boat is tied off.  They will deliver the drums of fuel with a hand-pump.

We bought two 200-liter drums of diesel (a little over 102 gallons).  Each drum cost 466.44 pa’anga.  This was duty free.  The regular price was 636.50 pa’anga per drum, so we saved a total of 340.12 pa’anga or $177 USD by doing the paperwork dance.    Soon after we finished this dance our friends on FREE SPIRIT called and said they also wanted to buy fuel.  So Bill walked Paul through the process --- very easy once you have figured it out.  Paul had his fuel delivered right then and Bill helped them.  Our fuel was delivered Wednesday morning and they helped us.   The fill location on FREE SPIRIT was too far from the dock for the hand-pump hose to reach, so their fuel had to be hand-pumped into jerry jugs and then poured into the main boat fuel tank.  We were lucky because Bill was able to piece together a hose long enough to fill our tank and we did not have to deal with jerry jugs.  We now have enough fuel to motor the entire way to New Zealand if something should happen and we can’t sail the distance.

So almost all our passage prep chores are completed and now we are waiting for the weather guy to tell us when will be the best time to depart.  The only remaining chore is for Bill to clean out the sump bilge the day before we leave.  The ocean motion causes the galley sink and shower water in the bilge to stink so we try to clean it right before each long passage.  We are not in a hurry to leave and will wait for a good weather window according to Bob McDavitt the NZ weather guru.  However, our friend Paul on FREE SPIRIT is really antsy to get started.  They might be leaving before us because we will wait until Bob McDavitt reports back to us.  Bob knows a lot more about weather in this part of the world than we do and we don’t feel comfortable relying on our interpretation of GRIB files for this typically rough passage.

Monday October 20, 2008

On Saturday we took a tour of Nuku’alofa.  It was basically the same tour we did back in 2002 during our prior visit here.  Except this time the old royal tombs have been fenced in so tourists can no longer wander around those huge stones.  That particular cemetery is interesting because it is surrounded by very large stones which act as retaining walls for the raised tombs.  Those stones were brought to Tonga from Samoa on outrigger canoes during the 11th century.  I find that simply amazing that people were capable of doing this tremendous task without blocks and tackle or tools.  This was accomplished by sheer manpower.  In another location and a several hundred years earlier they constructed 2 upright enormous stones with a huge third stone placed on top and fitted into a cut groove.  Over the centuries the purpose of this structure was forgotten.  Then in the 1980s while doing some clearing nearby they found additional stone structures that lined up with the main “arch” on the top of the little hill.  The newly found stone structures were in perfect alignment to determine summer solstice and winter solstice.  Just think, for more than a thousand years no one knew why this “arch” had been built.  It was built by a king whose lineage was later assassinated and over time the purpose was forgotten.  There were 3 lines of kings in Tonga, all related, so the royalty always has descended through one family.   Two of those lines were assassinated and the victorious third line still rules today.  Coronation for the current king was August of this year and he has already proclaimed that the operational monarchy will cease and democracy will begin in year 2010.  The monarchy will remain in place but will no longer be the all-powerful governance that it is today.  The government will be like that of Great Britain.  Parliament but with royalty all that stuff that we Americans have a hard time understanding.

The only disappointment in the tour was the flying foxes.  The guide took us to a different area than we visited in 2002, and the bats were not all that big.  Last time we saw bats that were at least 3-feet long and with a wingspan of 6 feet or more.  The ones we saw during this tour were only slightly more than a foot in length and with a wingspan of maybe 2 to 2 ½ feet.  Not all that impressive.  Believe it or not, the local people eat these bats.  Guess that is no more disgusting than country people eating squirrels or raccoons, but it sounds repulsive to us.  As one Tongan man told Bill:  Tongans will eat anything.

The blow holes were awesome.  These blow holes are on the western side of the island and are continuous for more than 15 kilometers.  Really beautiful and impressive.  We took photos and video but won’t have internet capability to upload to the website until we reach New Zealand.  I also made a video of 2 Tongan women talking so we will also be able to put an example of the language on this website.  I made the video just to get the audio and record their talking.

Today we cleared out of the Kingdom of Tonga.  We also visited the New Zealand High Council and picked up a marvelous packet of forms for arriving yachts.  Paperwork for arrival in New Zealand is pretty extensive.  I have already prepared our 2-year voyage memo and our list of foods to declare to Quarantine and Bill has prepared the form to email 48-hours prior to our arrival.  Now we  have a jillion or so more forms in this packet to complete before we arrive in Opua.  Our plan is to leave sometime tomorrow morning.  Passage to Opua, New Zealand according to our planned route is slightly more than 1140 miles and should take us about 8 days.   I have been dreading this passage since we decided to venture into the Pacific.  There are only 3 passages that concerned me:  northwest over Aruba when sailing down to Cartagena (and that lived up to its bad reputation); Tonga or Fiji south to New Zealand; and under South Africa.  Here’s hoping that this NZ passage won’t be nearly as bad as I fear it will be.  If the weather performs as predicted we should not encounter winds higher than 25 knots at any time during this passage.  Keeping our fingers crossed for that.

Yesterday afternoon there was an earthquake in Tonga.  We were down inside the boat and noticed a strange feeling – like ripples and vibration in the water.  Felt like harmonic resonance in the rigging to me.  Bill thought it felt like the ridges in roads when you approach a bridge sometimes or when driving in a particularly dangerous curve.  We both said “EARTHQUAKE!!!” and jumped up into the cockpit to see what was going on and saw people on 7 other boats also looking around.  Nothing appeared amiss and the ripples/vibration soon stopped.  We didn’t see any signs of receding water from the beaches so there was no tsunami headed our way.  Today we learned that there was indeed an earthquake.  Don’t know where the center was located or what the strength was.  No one was talking about it when we were in town clearing out today, so must assume the quake center was not on this island.  There are several active underwater volcanoes nearby.  Tonga is one of the most geologically active places in the entire Pacific Ocean.  Two years ago an underwater volcano erupted while a guy was sailing between Ha’apai and Fiji.  He ended up actually motoring through the new island as it was forming and nearly ruined his engine before he figured out what was happening.  Sounds exciting, huh?  We hope to avoid any such experiences.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lifuka Island, Ha’afeva Island, Nomuka Iki, Kelefesia Island, Pangaimotu Island

2008-10-04 to 12

Saturday October 4, 2008
Pangai, Lifuka Island, Ha’apai Group
Latitude 19.47.928S
Longitude 174.21.294W
Distance sailed 4.5 NM

Early this morning we motored a short distance south along the coast of Lifuka Island to the main “town” of Pangai.  Pangai is the administrative center for all of the Ha’apai Group in Tonga; but it is a very, very small town.   The sailing guide stated that Customs opens on Saturdays from 0830 to noon.  Like so many other things in that sailing guide, this was incorrect information.  That was okay with us because the high winds were predicted to remain until Monday and we wouldn’t leave Pangai until the winds dropped to a more comfortable level.

Getting into the anchorage area of Pangai is challenging because there are reefs and coral heads scattered literally everywhere and absolutely nothing is located in reality where it is indicated on the charts.  We managed to find our way well into the bay without incident; however, once we were on a direct heading provided by the sailing guide we ran into a bit of difficulty.  We were precisely on the course recommended in the sailing guide when the depth indicator dropped rapidly down from 25 feet to 2 feet.  Bill was standing on the bow and looking for hidden hazards but the glare on the wind-driven water made it impossible for him to see clearly.  By the time the depth gauge indicated 12 feet I had the engine in hard reverse, so that by the time the depth reached zero the forward momentum of the boat was almost stopped.  Remember, a boat is not a car.  It does not start reversing immediately when reverse gear is engaged.  Our keel gently “kissed” the reef as we backed away.  Barely made a scraping noise and no damage was sustained.   After that close-call we crept into the anchorage area.  Have never been so glad to have the anchor set and be settled in a safe spot.

We went ashore, as did friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT and S/V AIRSTREAM, and found Customs closed for the weekend as expected (the guide said it was open until noon…wrong again).   We all managed at staggering times to find Mariners Café and shared orders of French fries for lunch.  Mariners Café is the only eatery in Pangai; and surprise of surprises they actually had internet access.  It was only one very old, very s-l-o-w computer and cost only $5 per hour.  No WiFi, but what can you expect in the absolute middle of nowhere.  Each of us took the opportunity to check a few things online – especially weather forecasts.

Monday morning we cleared both in and out of Ha’apai.  Pangai is so easy and accommodating about clearances.  We will remain in the Ha’apai Group for another week or two but Pangai is the only place that handles clearances so we checked in and out in one smooth step.

Monday October 6, 2008
Ha’afeva Island, Ha’apai
Latitude 19.56.378S
Longitude 174.42.956W
Distance sailed 26.2 NM


Majestic is the first word that came to mind when I saw an enormous sperm whale breach 300 meters off our port bow during the sail from Pangai to Ha’afeva (pronounced hah-ah-FAY-va).  We were not aware that sperm whales visited these waters but it was most definitely a sperm whale and it was an enormous one.  The head came shooting out of the water with tremendous force.  It breached the surface all the way back to the tip of its flipper and then fell down with a resounding crash to cause a big splash.  This ocean mammal was simply majestic and a memory that I will treasure always.

We were anchored on the leeward westward side of the island.  On Tuesday we walked across the island with our friends from S/V FREE SPIRIT and ate lunch at the home of a local Tongan family.  The tiny village is located on the windward edge of the island.  Bill actually ate a few bites of the traditional foods that were served island style on banana leaves and eaten with our fingers.  There were leaf packets of taro leaves cooked with flowers – looked like a green gelatinous mess but tasted very sweet.   Very messy to eat with your fingers.  Also served were taro leaves cooked with goat meat; tasted like a cross between turnip greens and kale but very mild flavor.  The woman also put on the table 4 large cut chunks of something that looked like logs.  Only one brave enough to taste one of the logs was Michele and the expression on her face warned me not to try it.  Paul thought the logs were put there to hold a hot serving pan; but, no, the logs were meant to be eaten.  I have no idea what this was called but it answers the question that many of us have had about what is sold at all the local vegetable markets.  These things look like small tree trunks with all the leaves, branches and roots cut off.  Really do not look edible and based on Michele’s reaction these are not tasty to Western palates.  The best food served to us was a baked yam.  This yam did not resemble anything we in the USA would call a yam.  The exterior is covered with fibrous hairy nasty stuff.  The interior is very fibrous and coarse.  It has no true flavor but does have a slight sweetness. 

We gave the family 2 new polo shirts for the husband and 4 bars of soap to his sister and 2 cans of corned beef to his mother.  They seemed pleased with their gifts.

Then we walked through the village and dodged pigs and dogs.  There are many more pigs on this island than people.  A few of the local children joined us as we walked through the village but turned back homeward when we started back across the island.   The path went by the local cemetery and we saw the quilts that are hung at the heads of the graves instead of headstones as we know them.

On the walk back across the island we collected mangoes from the trees lining the path.  Typical cruising day.

Wednesday October 8, 2008
Nomuka Iki, Ha’apai
Latitude 20.16.998S
Longitude 174.48.862W
Distance sailed 23.6 NM

It was a beautiful day for sailing.  Saw a few whales in the distance but nothing like previous days of sailing in this group.  Frankly, we have seen enough whales and are ready to get out of their territory before we hit one.  Bill had set our course to anchor on the NE side of Nomuka Iki.  There is supposed to be a beautiful anchorage behind the reef that is reminiscent of the Tobago Cays in the Caribbean.  But winds gusted a couple of times to over 20 knots and I was afraid to spend the night anchored behind reef on the windward side of an island.  It would not have been pleasant if the winds kicked up overnight.  Might have been ideal but not worth the chance.  So we changed course at the last minute and anchored in the lee of the island on the western side.  There are several reefs around us.  We are sheltered from the wind but there is a southerly swell causing the boat to roll quite a lot.  That is okay; the motion is tolerable and we only plan to stay here one night.

Thursday October 9, 2008
Kelefesia Island (pronounced KAY-lay-fay-SEE-ah)
Latitude 20.30.1626S
Longitude 174.44.4185W
Distance sailed 18.4 NM

Nice day for sailing.  We took the long route and went well west of all charted reefs; then turned east and motored into the very small anchorage at Kelefesia.  This is the epitome of what one thinks of as a beautiful Pacific island.  Kelefesia is unbelievable gorgeous --- as long as the weather is good.  The anchorage is small and can only accommodate 4 or 5 boats.  The sailing guide recommends no more than 3 boats for this anchorage, but there were 5 boats while we were there and there was adequate swinging room in the calm weather.   We could stay in a place this beautiful for a couple of weeks but you know the weather won’t allow that.

Sunday October 12, 2008
Pangaimotu Island at Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu
Latitude 21.07.4346S
Longitude 175.09.8088W
Distance sailed 56.3 NM

You guessed it – the weather did not stay good so we had to depart Kelefesia.  Should have left early Saturday morning but got sucked into staying another day because it was simply so gorgeous --- even though we knew higher winds of 18 knots were predicted to arrive Saturday night.  Well, those higher winds did arrive right on schedule and, of course, the winds were 25 – 27 knots instead of only 18.  And wind direction was SSE instead of the SE as predicted.  This kicked up some decent-sized waves and made the little anchorage at Kelefesia very uncomfortable.  Thank goodness a couple of boats left early Saturday so there were only 4 of us who remained.  We had raised the outboard and dinghy before sunset just in case the weather turned too bad and we had to leave quickly.  As soon as the winds kicked up we turned on all the instruments.  I stayed in the cockpit all night just in case anything happened.  Being in the cockpit would save probably a full minute of reaction time and when you are that close to reef in all directions a minute can make the difference of keeping your boat off the reef or not.  It was a rough night.  The anchor chain ground against rocks or coral all night and the boat was bucking uncomfortably against the anchor chain. 

At daylight we pulled the anchor – took more than a half-hour to get the anchor chain up from all the rocks and coral.  It was not wrapped around anything but was wedged tightly in several places.  It was a struggle and required a bit of maneuvering to get the anchor up, but finally we motored out of what had been a gorgeous anchorage and was now rapidly becoming a nightmare with pounding waves.  Glad we had the opportunity to see it as its best.

Seas were exceptionally rough for the entire passage down to Tongatapu.  The seas weren’t all that big; just short, steep and confused.  Waves were not more than 2 seconds apart.  Winds ranged 22 to 28 knots all day and were about 10 degrees too close for us to be able to sail.  So we motor-sailed all day with triple reefed sails. 

Arriving at Nuku’alofa in Tongatapu for the first time by boat is slightly nerve-wracking for us nervous sorts.  The entrance is about 18 miles long and there are many reefs to avoid.  Most of the navigational markers have been missing since 1992.  The charts are not perfectly accurate but they are more accurate for this area than they are for the Vava’U Group or the Ha’apai Group.  Maybe because Tongatapu is the commercial center and capital of all of the Kingdom of Tonga.   We were both quite happy to drop anchor for the night and try to forget the day’s passage.  There is a restaurant/bar on the beach right next to where we are anchored.  It is called Big Mama’s Yacht Club and looks like the kind of place we will enjoy.   There is internet access here but it is frustratingly slow and sporadic.

CORRECTION NOTE FOR OUR LOG 9/30 TO 10/03OUR ANCHOR NEVER ACTUALLY DRAGGED DURING THAT BAD WEATHER.  We realized later that the anchor was solidly set the entire time.  When the snubber line snapped that allowed the boat to move back on the excess anchor chain rode.  Plus, an additional 15 meters of chain slipped through the windlass gypsy.  But the anchor was still properly set the entire time.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Day trip to Ha’apai Group & Whales, Whales, Whales

Latitude 19.40.310S
Longitude 174.17.372W
Distance sailed (motored):  54.5 NM

Today was an incredible experience. FWIW, both the Tonga and Fiji weather forecasts were wrong for today.  There wasn`t 10-15 knots wind from either the N-NE or from the SE.  It was flat calm with winds ranging 0 - 7 knots from east, so we motor-sailed all the way to the northernmost anchorage at Ha`Ano island in the Ha`apai Group of Tonga.  Today we saw more whales than you would believe possible.  The whales that were close enough to identify were all fin whales.  Fin whales are 21 to 24 meters long and have a totally white underside on their tails, framed by a black outline.  Those are some big whales!!  They have very nice patterns of shades of black and gray and white.  The old whalers hated finners because they are so aggressive.  None of the other species of whales would fight back, but the fin whales fought hard and would attack the whalers.  Some of more distant whales we saw today might have been humpbacks but were too far away to see the distinctive tail "fingerprints."  Humpbacks are considerably smaller than finners, but still almost as long as our boat.

We saw dozens and dozens of whale spouts or blows.  Saw at least a dozen full body breaches, most by adults and one by a baby calf.  Saw many, many whales swimming at the surface and showing their backs and dorsal fins.  It was all so cool.  Also saw spy hops, head rises, gazes, pec slaps, tail lobs, tail swipes, fluking and tail slaps.  The only tail slaps we saw were done by the fin whales when we were close to them.  Our whale watching guide does not explain why whales do tail slaps and we were afraid that it might be a form of aggression since finners are known to be aggressive.  Figured they might be telling us to move away, so we did.

Today was also a great fishing day --- for our friends; not for us.  We caught one bonita and one very large barracuda.  Threw both of them back.  Then Bill got a hit with something very large that swam deep.  He was having a hard time fighting it and was afraid it was going to take every bit of our line as it went to deeper depth.  Then it just spit out the lure.  Don`t know how it could do that since this was a treble-treble hook lure, each of the 3 hooks also having 3 hooks.  There were deep teeth marks on the lure itself.  Surprised it wasn`t bitten in half.  About 15 miles before our destination Bill reeled in the lure because we were close to some whales and he discovered that 2 of the treble hooks had fouled together.  There is absolutely no way we could catch anything with fouled hooks because the water disturbance would scare off all fish.  Bill was disgusted with our fishing attempts for the day and did not put the line back into the water.

Our friends on FREE SPIRIT, however, caught 2 rainbow runners and 2 very large mahi-mahi.  Rainbow runners are supposed to be delicious but we cannot attest to that fact since we have never caught one.  FREE SPIRIT caught both mahi-mahi just before arriving in the anchorage, so just goes to show you that we should have put our lines back in the water instead of getting disgusted with not having caught anything good all day.  FREE SPIRIT also caught 3 bonita and threw them back and they lost 2 more rainbow runners trying to get them onto the boat.  They had a very active fishing day.  Their freezer is now so full of fish that they are borrowing freezer space from us.  They gave us a large bag of mahi-mahi and we enjoyed beer-battered fish for dinner.  Later in the evening another boat arrived in this anchorage.  That guy had caught a 100-lb tuna and next morning he shared 2 large bags with us.  Who cares if we are terrible fishermen as long as we have friends who share so generously ..

Wednesday October 1, 2008
This morning a mother whale and small calf swam around close to our anchored boats.  The calf breached several times.  They circled FREE SPIRIT very closely.  We are all pretty certain that these whales were humpbacks although none of us saw the tail fingerprints.  Michele said she got a photo of the breaching calf that also shows the island so you can see how very close to shore these whales are venturing.  The Kingdom of Tonga is visited by more whales each year than any other place on earth.  What we have seen so far is just too cool.  And we got to see it on our own, without going on a tour boat.  Gotta love it.

More strong weather is predicted for day after tomorrow.  It is too beautiful and picture-postcard-perfect to move today.  We are doing laundry and making water.  Tomorrow we need to find the island to clear into the Ha`apai Group and then find a sheltered anchorage.  There aren`t many anchorages in this vicinity that offer much shelter because these islands are very flat, but we will find the best possibility.  We have had a taste of bad weather and have a healthy respect for it.

Friday October 3, 2008
Latitude 19.44.021S
Longitude 174.18.221W
Distance sailed 4.5 NM

Minutes after we raised our dinghy and put the outboard on the rail mount in preparation to sail to Pangai to officially clear into Ha`apai the weather suddenly changed.  Winds immediately picked up strong and switched to the north and then NW.  We decided it might be a good idea to prepare a second anchor and have it on deck just in case conditions worsened.  Bill was standing down in the deck locker pulling out the anchor and rode and anchor chain when suddenly rain started marching across the bay towards us at a rapid clip.   We didn`t want the deck locker to get wet inside (would cause the lines stored in there to mold), so we tightened the deck lid down and ran back to the cockpit.  The barometer changed from 1011.9 to 1018.9 in a heartbeat and 30+ knot winds were blowing us all around.  Over the next 4 hours the wind clocked from NW to W to S, eventually steadying from SSE.  Needless to say our bow changed direction with the wind and we were no longer pointed to shore.  Now we were parallel with the island and very close to reef on our port side.


We were now in a position with reef too close for comfort on our port side and with reef within half-a-boat-length right behind and curving partially up our starboard stern.  This put us in a very precarious spot.  Bill put on another snubber line and it soon also snapped.   We later realized that this was the manual outhaul line for our mainsail but in his hurry to find a line and get another snubber set Bill did not stop to think about it.  This was a spare line to use in case the electric outhaul motor malfunctions.  It is ruined now because it snapped right at the whipped loop end.   This was a non-stretch type rope and should not have been used as an anchor snubber because a snubber line should have a lot of stretch.  Note that we lost our anchor proper snubber hook last year when sailing in very rough waters NW over Aruba enroute to Cartegena.  We have not been able to find a proper anchor snubber hook since then and have been using a screw-on shackle which bent in high winds in the Tuamotus in early June.  We bought 2 new screw-on shackles in Papeete, Tahiti.  If and when we ever find a proper anchor snubber hook at a decent chandlery then we will buy 3 of the darn things!  Had no idea that once we left the Eastern Caribbean that we would not be able to purchase such a basic item.

This time Bill pulled out one of our thick twisted-nylon dock lines to use as an anchor snubber line.  Our only 2 screw-on shackles were still attached to the anchor chain and the boat was bucking like a wild horse in the big waves and high winds and retrieving the shackles was out of the question.  So Bill used a stainless steel clip-on shackle.  Neither of us had any faith in this SS shackle and were sure it would bend or break soon.  But at least we had a snubber attached and the boat moved no farther towards the reefs.

As soon as the really high winds had clocked to come from the south then the rain had stopped.  But we had been too busy dealing with broken snubber lines to get back to setting up a second anchor.  I had been at the helm with the engine running and trying to maneuver the boat so we wouldn`t hit any of the reefs while Bill dealt with the snubber lines.  Now that we had a snubber that was holding and the boat was progressing no closer to the reefs then Bill could go back to digging out the second anchor.  He had always thought that deploying a second anchor would take only a few minutes.  Yeah, sure.  Well, it ended up taking exactly one hour to dig the anchor out of the deck locker; dig out the 30-meter anchor chain and attach it to the anchor; dig out the 250-feet anchor rode (heavy rope); disentangle the anchor rode (which had been neatly coiled when placed into that deck locker but somehow it would not feed out smoothly);  measure out the anchor rode on the deck so we would know how much to deploy; dig out the trip line and measure it to match the water depth where we planned to set the anchor; and attach the trip line to the anchor shaft and to a buoy.  Remember that this is all being done during 30+ knot winds and on a boat that was moving like a bucking stallion.  But Bill was a real trooper and managed to do it.  We waited until the wind slowed briefly to 25 knots and then moved forward and dropped the second anchor.  It set immediately and the boat fell back.  Now we were about 100 feet from the reef at our stern.  The 2 anchors were set parallel with one another about 150 feet apart and the boat was riding with what felt like equal tension on both anchors.  We felt secure that the boat would not more farther back and it could not more very far to either side.  So we were safe from hitting any reefs.

Soon after we had both anchors set the winds began to settle at 25 knots and the big waves began to diminish.  But the wind was coming from the SSE and the moderate-sized waves were coming from the S and hitting the boat at an uncomfortable angle.  Neither Bill nor I were bothered by the motion but it was rough.  The other 2 boats in the anchorage, FREE SPIRIT and AIRSTREAM (the boat that caught the 100-lb tuna), decided to chance moving to another anchorage in search of more protection and calmer water.  An hour or so later FREE SPIRIT hailed us on the radio and said that if we could get up our anchors that we should move near them because that bay offered much better shelter from both wind and waves.  Bill had a heck of a time manually hauling up the second anchor.  It is a big heavy anchor plus the 30-meters of anchor chain isn`t exactly lightweight.  He managed to get the anchor back aboard without straining his back, and the electric windlass easily raised our primary anchor.  We had been afraid that it might be fouled around coral, but it came right up with no problem whatsoever.  Bill also managed to remove both of the screw-on shackles from the anchor chain as it came up to the windlass.

We motored less than 5 miles directly into the strong wind and waves to the island of Foa.  Enroute our depth gauge decided to suddenly start counting down to zero.  Scared the living fool out of me when Bill yelled to look at the depth gauge.  The charts showed that we were in nearly 800 feet of water and suddenly our depth gauge was showing 25 feet and counting down until it soon reach zero.  I threw the engine into hard reverse and we both were in a panic.  Then we realized that everything was okay but this was a gauge malfunction.  We have 2 depth gauges; an analog one that is just a dial with a needle that indicates meters.  Once the depth reaches greater than 200 meters then this gauge just pegs the needle straight down below the 200 meter mark.  We also have NMEA data fed to our Raymarine ST7001+ autopilot and it also displays depth in meters or in feet.  I normally set the autopilot to display speed-over-ground when we are not in an anchorage, but I had left the display indicating depth in feet.  Normally once we are deeper than 200 meters the Raymarine display in feet shows dashes.  That did not happen this time.  For some reason instead of displaying dashes it counted backwards and then displayed zeros.  Really freaked out both of us.  At any rate, we realized that we really were in 800+ feet of water and not going over reef; so we relaxed and motored back on course.

FREE SPIRIT gave us directions to avoid the reef that protects the anchorage.  We followed their directions and were soon in the lee of land.  What a relief to be in a calm anchorage again.  The wind was still blowing at 25-30 knots but anchored this close to the island we were experiencing only about 20 knots.  And absolutely no waves.

Don`t know how long we will hang out in Ha`apai (pronounced hah-ah-pie).  This high-pressure weather system is predicted to continue through Monday.  We don`t have a guide book for this area.  We borrowed FREE SPIRIT`s guide book and read that this is typical weather for this area.  It can change instantly and there are almost no anchorages that offer much shelter.  Bad weather typically lasts 5-6 days and then is followed by 5-6 days of good weather.  Don`t want to get caught in an exposed area; also don`t want to arrive in Nuku`alofa too early.  So it is a Catch-22 situation.  Our original plan was to arrive in Nuku`alofa around October 12 and be prepared to depart for New Zealand on the first good weather window after October 15.  Someone else said that last year they were stuck in Nuku`alofa for 17 days waiting for a good weather window to depart for New Zealand.  Their experience last year was the only reason we wanted to be in Nuku`alofa and ready to leave by Oct 15.  Really figured our departure for New Zealand would be around November 1.

The current weather makes me look forward to sailing around the coastal islands of New Zealand.  That area will have dozens of very sheltered bays to tuck into during high winds.  That sounds a lot nicer to me than riding out bad weather anchored in the middle of exposed reefs.  BTW, it was 72 degrees inside our closed-up boat when we woke up this morning.  This is typical spring weather down here.  Believe me, that is cold on a boat!  Especially to people raised on the Gulf coast of Texas.  And we are heading 1300 miles closer to the South Pole.  Man, are we going to freeze our tails off.